Threads takes on Twitter – three possible outcomes

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The future of Threads is far from certain.

It’s too early to know the direction Meta’s new Threads social media platform will follow, but history offers a few possible examples.

Instagram, the visually-oriented social network owned by Facebook parent Meta, recently launched its new “text-sharing” app called Threads. Users log in with their Instagram credentials, which automatically carry over to Threads. The app offers users features such as a feed which includes threads posted by people they follow, and recommended content from other creators.

Threads is similar to Twitter, which was acquired for $44 billion by multibillionaire and Tesla owner Elon Musk in October 2022. Media reports indicate Twitter traffic has declined since the July 6 introduction of Threads, which rapidly reached 100 million users, although Threads’ growth and engagement rates have reportedly slowed since their initial surge.

In any event, this week I take a look at three other upstart social media network launches, and how Threads may wind up having a similar trajectory to one of them.

Google+

In 2011, Google launched a direct challenge to Facebook with a new social network known as Google+. Similar to Threads, Google gave the platform a head start on membership by automatically linking it to the to the popular Gmail email service. Google also offered some features that weren’t available on Facebook, such as an offering called Hangouts that enabled group text, voice and video chats.

While Google+ reached a peak of more than 500 million active users, its engagement rates never approached those of Facebook and it was termed a “virtual ghost town” by the Wall Street Journal. Google eventually shuttered Google+ in 2019, having never posed any serious threat to Facebook, which rose to global dominance of the social networking space in that time.

There are some similarities between Google+ and Threads, such as Threads piggybacking on the existing large, engaged user base of Instagram. But Google challenged Facebook while that platform was on the ascent, while Threads is taking on Twitter during a period of contraction in advertising revenue, users, and user engagement. But as recent reports suggest Threads is already slowing in growth, this potential outcome bears watching.

TikTok

TikTok has experienced explosive global growth, is rapidly growing as a digital commerce platform, and is even generating concern among members of the U.S. government. According to the Q1 2023 Consumer Trends Report from e-commerce platform Jungle Scout, 43% of surveyed Gen Z consumers start their online product searches on TikTok, a higher number than those who start on Google. 

However, while the short video-focused platform is becoming a social networking powerhouse, it is not currently poised to destroy the relevance of any single competing social network. Even the similarly video-focused YouTube, with its longer-form videos and heavier focus on professionally made content, seems to be peacefully co-existing (at least for now).

Could Threads and Twitter both thrive in the same general space? Possibly. A market can often support two leading competitors – think Android and iOS or Coke and Pepsi.

Facebook

In the best outcome for Meta (and worst for Twitter), Threads becomes the de facto “text-sharing” app. When Facebook first opened its membership beyond college and high school students to the general public in 2006, MySpace was not just the most popular social networking site, but one of the most popular sites, period.

However, as Facebook steadily gained users, MySpace (and other pioneering social platforms such as Friendster) began losing them. By the time Google rolled out Google+ in 2011, Facebook was the number one social network and MySpace was fading into oblivion.

Meta would undoubtedly like to repeat this performance with Threads, but most likely it would be at least a couple of years before anything this dramatic could develop.

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